DANIEL EX MACHINA, PART ONE  BY PHOENIXE
Slash:  Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: R
Category: Established Relationship, Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Action/Adventure, Drama
Season/Spoilers: Sometime after season 3.  Spoilers for Legacy, Maternal Instinct, Crystal Skull
Synopsis: Is Daniel going insane...again?
Warnings: None
Length:  252 Kb  Originally completed June 2003 for the JD Six Pack #2 Zine.  A slightly revisted version has also been featured in the Six Pack Reprise since May 2004, and here it is, also tweaked a bit yet again, finally making it's debut on JD Divas New Year's Day 2006.  And Happy New Year!

 

"This damned tower had better be worth the effort, that's all I'm saying," Jack grumbled and glared toward crest of the hill SG-1 was currently scaling.  "Why do aliens always have to build these 'oh so damned fascinating we just have to check them out' buildings on top of huge, honking hills anyway? Frigging inconsiderate, you ask me.  And exactly why is it we find this particular structure so damned fascinating, again?"

"That's where the energy readings are coming from, Sir," Carter said, tossing a grin at Daniel trudging silently beside her, a fondly exasperated smile pulling at his mouth at this latest in a seemingly unending series of complaints being offered up by the constantly carping man behind them.

"It would also seem this tower is the only structure within the area scanned by the UAV to have escaped the almost total destruction of the other urban centres on this world," Teal'c patiently explained, his powerful strides briskly and seemingly effortlessly devouring the difficult ground beneath them and consequently setting a pace at least one of his team mates was having personal, and far from silent issues with.  "That would seem to indicate the structure enjoyed some sort of protection the cities did not and that, as well as its unique position so close to the gate makes it worthy of investigation."

"Definitely worth checking out in my book, Sir," Carter added.  "The tower is extremely conspicuous; it’s sending out a regular signal, some sort of navigational guide, or a distress beacon, perhaps, which would certainly have drawn attention to it, and yet it's completely unharmed while the cities themselves – well, the Goa'uld didn't leave much standing, did they?"

"Or anyone around to tell us exactly what happened here and save us a trip," Jack grunted.  "Whatever went down here, something really pissed the Goa'uld off.  They're not usually quite so hard on the real estate."

"Indeed," Teal'c rumbled.  "The degree of destruction we have witnessed on this world is most unusual.  As a rule the Goa'uld do not wantonly destroy structures constructed by advanced cultures such as this one must have been.  After they have subjugated the population and secured the technology it is customary for them to assimilate and adapt the residents and their cities to their own uses."   The Jaffa passed, taking several strides forward before continuing.  "Perhaps the planet was razed as a retaliatory measure."

"Against whom? For what?" Jack asked.

"I've been thinking about that," Daniel tossed back over his shoulder to Jack.  "Obviously there were people here once, and now, there aren't.  The natural assumption is of course, the Goa'uld took them all away, used them as slaves and hosts…wherever, but I wonder.  I mean, like Teal'c said, if the Goa'uld conquered this planet and relocated the population than why destroy the cities?  Obviously they could, because they did, but since they could, they didn't need to.  I agree with Teal'c the Goa'uld don't usually destroy stuff they can use.  It doesn't make sense."

"Why invent the wheel when you can steal someone else's?"  Jack quipped.

"Yeah," Daniel nodded.  "So what happened here?  There's definitely more going on than meets the eye, something that set the Goa'uld off, but I have no idea what. But there was something.  Such deliberate, wholesale, systematic destruction, not only is it unusually extravagant, it's just not their style.  Like Teal'c says, they're scavengers and opportunists, not – "

"Maybe they didn't find what they were looking for," Jack said with a shrug.


"Call me a killjoy but it doesn't look like much," Jack drawled as he squinted at the featureless white silo soaring up into the sky before them.  That's exactly what the structure they were advancing toward reminded him of, a grain silo, except it was gleaming white and at least twice the height of any he'd ever seen.  Oh, and the thing blinking away on the very top was different as well.

"It's big, anyway," he finally conceded.

"But Sir," Carter said, gesturing toward the level grassy expanse between them and the tower.  "No damage.  Absolutely none to the tower itself and the terrain – even if the original attack happened a long time ago and the grass and weather erosion reclaimed the blasted areas there's still no sign there was any sort of strike on this plateau or the tower.  None whatsoever. The ground is completely uniform and flat.  No evidence of any blast craters or weapons fire on the ground, and the tower doesn't show any battle damage either.  No matter what the rest of the planet looks like there aren't any indications this area was fired upon at all.  I find that interesting.  Don't you find that interesting, Sir?"

"Why yes, Carter, as a matter of fact I do," Jack flashed her a jaunty grin.  "I just didn't want to deprive you of the pleasure of pointing it out to me."

"This is amazing," Daniel enthused.  "My God, if they had this kind of technology why didn't they use it to protect their cities – their planet?  Why just this one building?"

"What if they couldn't?" Sam offered.  "We don't know anything about the capabilities of the technology, how exactly it functioned or how great an area it could cover, its power consumption requirements among other things.  All of which would have been factors dictating how and to what extent the technology could be used.  Perhaps using it on a planetary scale wasn't a practical option.  Or maybe they didn't have time to do anything more than use it to protect this one building."

"Or maybe what they were protecting – they considered it more important than anything else – themselves even."

"That is also a possibility DanielJackson," Teal'c nodded.

"I wonder what's in there," Daniel mused, his eyes rapt and distant.

"Well, we're not gonna find out standing here, now are we, kids," Jack pointedly interjected.

"Good point," Daniel acknowledged with a wry smile. 

"I'm so glad you agree. What do you say we combine some forward locomotion with the theorizing?  That is unless you want to spend the afternoon admiring the edifice in question from afar."

"Not me, Sir," Carter chimed in, starting to stride forward, Teal'c at her side.  "I don't know about you guys but I've got plans."

"Oh?"  Jack perked up as he and Daniel exchanged glances.  He could see the tone of Carter's last remark had piqued the archaeologist's curiosity as much as it had his own.  "Plans, Carter?" he lightly teased. "What, gotta a hot date or something?"

"Why yes, Sir, as a matter of fact I do."  Sam archly shot back over her shoulder and then continued to walk away.

"Carter!  You dog!"  Jack hooted.  "You don't!"

"Jack!"  Daniel scolded, whacking him on the arm.

"Do too!"  Sam sung out as Jack whacked Daniel back.

"Jack!"  Daniel snapped again, grabbing him by the arm.  "Behave yourself!"

His eyes twinkling dangerously, Jack blew him an insouciant kiss before giving Daniel a shove and hastening after Sam before Daniel could recover and stop him.

"Get outta town!  I want details!" Jack happily demanded as he closed on his 2IC.

"No way, Sir," Sam ignored him, grinning at Teal'c.

"Aw come on, Carter," Jack wheedled as Daniel caught up to them, glaring at Jack and falling into step beside him.  "Just a name."

"No," Sam said stubbornly.

"Initials, then?"  Jack suggested hopefully.

"N.O."

"Aw Carter, you’re no fun anymore! One initial?"

"Sorry."

"Shoe size?"

"Forget it, Sir, you're wasting your time."

"Can we watch?"  Jack leered.

"Jack!"  Daniel yelled, punching him in the arm.

The teasing and good-natured violence continued as SG-1 approached the gleaming tower.  They were within ten feet of its wide, open arch-shaped entranceway when Daniel spoke again.

"Um guys, wait up for a minute," he said.  "I just thought of something."

"Daniel?"  Jack demanded, immediately sobered by the serious tone of Daniel's voice and the expression on his face.

"Okay, so far we haven't had any problems getting this close to the tower but seeing as how everything we've seen, that is, when it comes to actually trying to go inside, well, if these people, whoever they were went to such great lengths to keep the Goa'uld from destroying the tower don't you think it's reasonable to assume they'd be just as determined to keep them from entering it?  If they wanted to protect whatever is inside, that is?"

"Yeah Daniel," Jack nodded.  "I think that's a damned reasonable assumption to make.

"Assuming of course the protective mechanism is still active and functioning," Sam added.

"I think it would be safer for Teal'c if we went with assuming it is," Jack countered, turning to Teal’c and shrugging.  "Sorry big guy, but Daniel's right.  I think it would be best if you sat this one out."

"I concur, O'Neill," Teal'c replied with a solemn nod.

"You might not be able to go in either, Sam," Daniel added with an apologetic glance to the astrophysicist.

"If the technology is sensitive to the presence of the symbiote I should be fine," Sam answered, looking longingly at the looming arch and the shadowed interior of the tower it tantalizingly revealed.

"But not if Naquadah is what makes it go off."  Daniel gently added.  "We don't want you to get hurt, either, Sam."

"I'm willing to risk it, Sir," Sam said quickly, turning to her CO hopeful and determined.

"Well, we don't know anything is going to happen.  This thing's batteries could be dead or something," Jack said, waving at the tower.  "But just to be on the safe side, I'll go through first."

Daniel hung his head to hide his worried expression from his lover.  He wanted to be the first one to go in for the same reason Jack had claimed the privilege, but he also knew there was no way Jack would ever let anyone, and most especially him take any risks he wasn't prepared to take himself.  If it wasn't safe no one would suffer except him.  Jack was too much of a protector to behave any other way.  It was who Jack was, a large part of the reason why Daniel loved him, but at the same time…

"It'll be fine," Jack whispered to Daniel as he sidled past him, gripped his P-90 confidently and strode toward the archway. 

The instant Jack was in the centre of the arch a low, muted humming sound issued from the darkened interior of the tower. "Well I guess that answers that question," he said to his apprehensive team mates while casting a wary glance at the ceiling overhead.  He took another step and the humming hitched up a notch.  Jack froze as a soft, diffused cloud of sparkling bluish mist oozed out of the walls of the arch, like liquid light, completely enveloping his body without obscuring him from the view of the rest of SG-1.

"Jack?"  Daniel said anxiously.

Jack held out his arm, waggled his fingers in the glowing mist and then smiled.  "It's fine!" he hollered and shrugged.  Kinda tickles, actually."

The blue, blinking miasma hung in the air for a few more seconds and then abruptly vanished.  The interior lights of the tower snapped on. 

"Wow," Jack peered down the newly revealed corridor leading to a circular chamber in the very centre of the tower. "I guess I passed," he grinned back at the wary faces of the trio standing on the outside.  "And I never even studied."

"I'd like to try next, Sir," Sam eagerly offered.

Jack frowned and then nodded.  "I don't like it, but whatever is in here, if we're talking alien gizmos you're probably the one best qualified to make any sense out of them, if there is any sense to be made.  Ah!  Ah!" He admonished sternly, forestalling her enthusiastic plunge forward with restraining finger.  "Easy, Major.  Let's take this slow.  Daniel, keep an eye on her.  Carter, if you so much as hiccup we're pulling you out.  I don't want any arguments.  You understand?"

"Yes Sir," Sam nodded, her CO's concern taking the reckless edge off her enthusiasm.  As much as she was dying to see what was in that tower she took his point about needing to be careful.

Sam smiled reassuringly at the two men flanking her and started to walk toward the man anxiously watching her from within the structure.

She'd barely crossed the threshold before the mist came quickly hissing out at her, making a sinister, almost accusatory sound as it rapidly issued forth and billowed about her.

"Wow!"  Sam yelped as she was literally pushed back out the way she had come so forcefully she bounced off Teal'c who'd stepped forward to reach for her the instant she'd cried out.

"Sam!"  Daniel yelled almost the same time as Jack hollered, "Carter!"

"It's okay, guys," Sam's assurance was shaky and she glanced up to smile gratefully at the huge black man steadying her until she recovered from her unexpected and precipitous ejection.  "I'm okay.  It didn't – didn't hurt me, just – sort of – pushed me back.

"Spat you out, you mean," Jack said, eyeing her sceptically.  "Are you sure you're all right?" he demanded, his voice laced with concern as he carefully watched her from his position within the tower’s interior.

Sam shrugged and grimaced.  "Yes Sir," she unhappily informed him.  "But I guess this means I don't pass."

"So, Naquadah it is, then," Jack agreed with an rueful expression.  "And if this joint doesn't like you I think it's pretty much a given it'll positively hate Teal'c."

"I believe that would be a reasonable assumption, O'Neill."

"So you're definitely sitting this one out, big guy. Daniel," Jack continued, turning his attention to the remaining member of the party.  "Looks like it's just you and me, kiddo."

Sam handed the camcorder to Daniel with a heavy sigh, making no effort to hide her bitter disappointment at being excluded.

"Make sure you record everything, Daniel," she said enviously and she knew, unnecessarily.

"I will, Sam," Daniel kindly reassured her, as disappointed for her sake as she was.  "We won't be long," he promised.

"I'll second that!" Jack called out from inside the tower.  "Daniel!  Let's go!"

Daniel nodded, turned away from Sam and Teal'c and walked into the arch.

The instant he crossed the threshold the mist immediately flowed out to greet him, as it had for the two preceding members of SG-1.  Also as it had for Jack the low non-threatening hum accompanying the light bath similarly serenaded him.

“Way to go, Daniel, it likes you.” Jack’s tone was bantering, but his eyes were wary as he darted his glance all about, not taking anything for granted. 

Daniel kept walking toward him, enjoying the mildly caressing feeling of the mist upon his skin.  It was oddly…soothing…calming, actually…and really, really…nice…  

“Whoa, this is cool!” Daniel started to say when the friendly hum buzzing about him abruptly changed, suddenly increasing in volume and pitch at an alarming rate.

"Hold on, what's happening?" Jack had already entered the inner chamber and whirled about, instantly responding to the alarming sounds behind him, his apprehension clearly showing on his face.

"Daniel, what did you do?" Jack accusingly demanded of his perplexed partner.

"Nothing.  I didn't – I just – " Daniel yelled over the rapidly increasing din, his eyes anxiously darting about. 

"This is different from what to happened to me.  Different usually is not good.  Daniel - are you all right? Goddamned alien technology," Jack glared spitefully at the uncaring white walls around him.

"It's okay, Jack, I'm – " Daniel started to reassure him and then stopped, his eyes widening with disbelief.

He was looking right at Jack and then Jack was - was gone.  He’d vanished!  Just – just…wasn't there.  Jack was gone, but he wasn’t alone. 

Oh my God, what was happening here?  Where was Jack and where – where had they come from?

The tower was full of people; crowding around him, crushing into him, clutching at him, grabbing, holding out imploring hands, their voices loud and confusing in his ears, deafening.  Calling to him, they were calling but he couldn't understand…too many of them, there were too many so close, frightening, confusing – too much, it was too much – stop, please stop –

"Daniel!"  Jack howled as a blinding wall of searing light blanked out the entire entranceway tunnel, completely obliterating Daniel.  He was gone.  Poof.  Like he'd been whited-out from existence.  The terrifying effect lasted for only an instant but for that agonisingly long period of uncertainty when he couldn't see Daniel at all, it was as if Daniel had ceased to exist, and Jack was deathly afraid he was actually…gone.

Then the whiteout effect blinked off and Jack could see everything once more.  The stark walls of the entranceway leading to the outside, Carter and Teal'c's strained faces peering anxiously inward from behind the unseen barrier they could not cross, Daniel….   

Daniel!

Daniel, not standing where he had been before the frightening flash had swallowed him up.  He was down, Daniel was down, lying in an insensate, crumpled heap on the pristine archway floor. 


"Hold on a sec, Teal'c, I think he's coming around."

Jack.  That was Jack's voice.  Jack? 

Daniel groaned. His head was housing a noisy swarm of angry bees hurling themselves at the inside of his skull making it painfully throb in time with the annoying buzzing sound in his ears.  He felt like crap and he had no idea why.  Wait a minute, wait, oh yeah, he'd been with Jack, on P8X-807 about to go into the tower, he'd been talking to Sam, before joining Jack, yeah he remembered that but then…but what – where –

"Jack!"  Daniel cried as he hurled himself back into full awareness, panicked and disoriented.

"Easy, Danny," Jack soothed, arresting Daniel's abrupt and distressed upward surge with a gentle hand on his shoulder.  "Take it easy, buddy, relax," he further counselled, smiling reassuringly into Daniel's confused and apprehensive eyes and gently pushing him back down on the grass.  "No rush, get your bearings."

"What – what happened?" Daniel croaked, not finding it easy to speak because he'd suddenly discovered his mouth was so dry his tongue felt like sandpaper.  "Why – why am I – "

His eyes widened in astonishment as for the first time he realised he was flat on his back on the ground, the anxious faces of his team mates hovering all over his field of vision blotting out the sky overhead while their fiercely protective nearness hemmed him in as efficiently.

"You got zapped, Daniel, by that weird white light in the tower, don't you remember?"  Jack told him with an earnest attempt at a 'no big deal, just a scratch and by the way I wasn't going out of my mind worrying about you' grin not fooling either one of them.

"What?"  Daniel blinked, wishing all the banging in his head would go away so he could hear properly, he could have sworn Jack just said...

"What are you talking about, I haven't even gone in yet, I was about to, but – " he faltered, suddenly uncertain of his certainty as the concern on his companions' faces etched up a notch in response to his protest.  Even though he could swear he hadn’t been, hadn’t the slightest recollection of being in there, never mind of this light Jack was talking about, the way they were staring at him, it was true, he had been...what Jack said.  In there.  But if he had, why couldn’t he remember?

"He could be suffering from traumatic amnesia, Sir," Carter abruptly said.  "It's not uncommon for accident victims to be unable to recall the details of the incident especially if they suffer any sort of head trauma."

"Well, he didn't get bumped on the head he got zapped," Jack shot back at her as he gave Daniel's shoulder a rough but reassuring squeeze.

"Then his memory loss could be a result of the exposure to the alien energy," Sam returned.  "I don't know, Sir but maybe we should find out if Daniel's memory has been affected in any other ways."

"Good idea," Jack nodded, turning back to Daniel, his eyes twinkling.  "Quick Daniel, what colour are your shorts?"

"Fuck off, Jack," Daniel snorted as he closed his eyes and massaged his throbbing forehead with the heel of his hand.

"He sounds all right to me," Jack shrugged.

"That remains to be seen, O'Neill," Teal'c gravely added, noting Daniel's pained grimace as.  "Are you in distress, DanielJackson?"

"Um no, I'm – well, maybe just a little," Daniel conceded without opening his eyes.  "Headache," he admitted, pinching the bridge of his nose.  "There's this – this buzzing in my ears but I'm sure it's noth – wait a minute – " he asked, concerned, finally opening his eyes and looking immediately to Jack.  "Where are my glasses?"

 "Got 'em right here, Danny," Jack assured him, lightly patting one of the chest pockets of his vest.

"That's good, and thank you, now can I have them, please?"

"I'll hold on to them, just to be on the safe side," Jack said, taking Daniel by the hand, preparing to help him up.  "You gonna be okay going back?"

"Jack, I told you I'm – what do you mean, going back?"  Daniel demanded as he sat up.  "What about the survey of the tower?  We're not finished yet.  We haven't checked it out, recorded anything, we can't just leave."

The buzzing in his head suddenly snapped and crackled as the swarm of thwarted bees inside his skull morphed into psycho wasps, Daniel's alarm at Jack's suggestion they depart immediately sympathetically spiking with the increased amplitude and agitation of the angry, incessant whine.

They couldn't – he certainly couldn't.  He couldn't go with the job not done.   Walk away? He wasn't finished!  And he had to, he had to finish it, do something, it was important, he knew that, he wasn't sure what or why but he did know it was important and he couldn't –

He couldn't leave yet!

"Oh yes we can and yes we are," Jack's steely, implacable eyes belied the indulgent smile on his face.  "In case it slipped your mind you were attacked, Daniel, by whatever those aliens left behind in there."

"Attack is kind of a strong word, don't you think," Daniel quickly replied, trying to swallow his panic in order to make a frontal assault on Jack's reasonable side.  Jack did have one, even though his colonel would rather eat liver than admit it.  Usually, he could make Jack listen.  Usually.  He just had to stay calm and go for the throat.

"Daniel, something in that place gave Carter the heave-ho and zapped you unconscious.  That rates as an attack in my book."

"How long was I out?"  Daniel stubbornly rebutted.

“I don't know,” Jack glared at him.  “Not long, less than a minute, I think. The point is - "

"So no big deal," Daniel grinned. 

"I dunno," Jack frowned at him.  "I'm starting to think brain damage, myself.  Do you not understand what just happened here? Something in that building knocked you out.  Cold.  C.O.L.D, Daniel.  For a minute or an hour or a week, makes no difference how long you were out, you were out, something in that place laid you out flat and for the third time, I'd call that an attack."

"But maybe it wasn't supposed to be," Daniel insisted.

"Well, if it's all the same to you, if that's the way the folks who used to live here say hello, I'd just as soon pass on finding out what they do for 'pleased to meet you'."

"But maybe that's exactly what they were trying to do," Daniel ignored Jack's increasingly irritated expression and pressed on. "After all, you walked through with no ill effects, right?  Maybe whatever it is was  - was – I don't know – "

"And maybe it let me through because the doohickey in there protecting the place, or whatever, needed time to get its range," Jack flatly returned, his mouth set in an implacable, unfriendly line.  "So now it's all primed and ready to fry the next person who walks through."

"Why do you always automatically assume everyone out here is trying to kill us?"

"Because everyone out here usually is trying to kill us!"

"But not necessarily in this instance!"  Daniel stubbornly returned.  "You're fine, right?"

"Excuse me?" Jack blurted.

"If what you just said is true – then the next person through after me should have been zapped as well and they weren't – you weren't.  The next person – after me, I mean - was you.  You were already inside, you had to pass through the arch again to get back outside and bring me out too.  You're the one who carried me out, it had to have been you, Sam and Teal'c couldn't have done it, so you've walked through a second time.  Did anything happen?"

"Well, no it didn't," Jack grudgingly admitted. "But that doesn't mean   - "

"See!  See!"  Daniel said triumphantly, scrambling to his feet.  "Nothing happened to you.  That's why I'm sure it'll be safe to go back in, I'm sure it'll be fine, we can just go in there and check it out and – "

"Daniel, knock if off you're wasting your time," Jack snapped.  "This is a non-negotiable issue.   Frankly the brain damage thing is looking more and more plausible and I think getting you back to the SGC and checked out pronto – "

"Okay, okay, whatever," Daniel threw his hands up, exasperated. "I'll let Janet look me over if that'll make you happy, although I really don't think it's necessary, I'm fine.  And then - but we are coming back," Daniel insisted, looking to Sam for back up.  He hadn't missed the internal battle she'd been waging during the entire debate, soldier versus scientist and he was hoping the scientist would come out swinging and weigh in on his side.

"Not a chance," Jack grunted.  "Ah!" he warned Sam, who'd opened her mouth to interject and then shut it again as her CO waved an admonishing finger in front of her face.  "I don't care what the hell is in that place, in my opinion the potential threat isn't worth the risk."

"I would concur, DanielJackson," Teal'c grimly echoed.

"He's right, Daniel," Sam finally added unhappily. "I don't like it any better than you, but there's no way to know the intentions of the builders of this place for sure or exactly what the technology is supposed to do and is capable of, so whatever is in there – and we don't even know for sure if there is anything – it's not worth risking lives for.  Especially as it has already demonstrated it is capable of taking aggressive action against intruders."

"What she said," Jack growled at him.

The buzzing chaos in Daniel's head was almost as overwhelming as his panic.  As the sound swelled into a shrill, urgent crescendo Daniel cast desperate eyes at the entranceway behind Jack.  He could do it; it wasn't far, he could run for it, he'd make it and once he was inside he could – he could –

"Daniel, snap out of it!"  Jack yelled at him, grabbing him by the arm and roughly shaking him.  "That frigging does it – we are so out of here!  You're seeing Frasier now!"

The instant Jack whirled him around and gave him a shove gate-ward the shrieking stopped, like a balloon popping.  The cessation of both the sound and the accompanying sense of urgent compulsion left Daniel reeling and disoriented.  And not exactly sure what had happened in the past few minutes or why Jack had band of steel fingers wrapped around his upper arm and was motoring him away from the tower at an extremely brisk clip.

"Jack?" he said casting a bewildered glance back at the tower they were swiftly striding away from.  "What – "

"We've done this already, Daniel," Jack glared at the man he was all but dragging along beside him, clenching his teeth as he stuffed his rising concern back down and swallowed it.  "You, zap, boom, fall down, wake up, start talking crazy, we take you back to the SGC so ole Doc Frasier can check you over."

Of course!  He remembered now!  He'd been knocked out by that – whatever it was in the tower.  What had he been thinking, of course Jack was right to insist he get medical attention, who knew what that alien energy field had done to him, why in the world had he been arguing with Jack about it, it was just common sense, not to mention – dammit!  Jack was probably worried sick about him and he wasn't helping acting like a space case and fighting with him.

"Sorry, Jack," Daniel offered, giving the man beside him an extremely sincere, rueful smile.  "I guess what happened to me in there shook me up more than I realised.  Of course, you're absolutely right, I need to have my head examined."

"I've been saying that for years," Jack grumbled, his tone still dripping with affront but a faint smile quirked at the corner of his lip.  Jack's dark eyes slid sideways, flickering over Daniel's face, seeing the contrition written there.

Apology accepted.  Jack said without saying a word.

"You can let go of me now, I'll be coming quietly," Daniel murmured in a low, sultry tone he only ever used with Jack, and then only in the bedroom.  The way Jack's eyes immediately darted back, flaring in response, he was getting the rest of Daniel's unspoken message loud and clear.

"That's okay, I don't mind hanging on if you don't," Jack murmured.

"I don't," Daniel grinned.  "Sorry," he whispered once more after they'd taken a few more steps.

"I know.  It's okay.  How's the head."

"Good.  It's getting better."

"That's good."

"Jack, can I have my glasses back, please.  I can't see."

"You don't need to, I'm driving.  They'll be fine with me until we get back."

"Jack, I've been wearing glasses since I was six, I'm not going to break them."

"You broke a pair last week."

"Now that's not fair, that wasn't my fault how was I supposed to know – "

"Daniel, shut up and walk.   You're giving me a headache."


"You're sure you experienced no other effects?  A brief period of unconsciousness, a headache, ringing in your ears and slight temporary memory loss?  That’s all, Daniel?"

"Well he was acting a bit over-the-top obsessed about wanting to go back into the damned tower again after the thing cold-cocked him, but I guess for him that's nothing out of the ordinary," Jack helpfully informed the petite doctor before Daniel could respond.

"No, there was nothing else," Daniel answered her after balefully glaring at Jack.

That was right, wasn't it?  What he’d told Janet, that's all that had happened.  Daniel frowned as uncertainty tickled his awareness with a teasing feeler – a faint reminder there was something – something else…

"Are you sure, Doctor Jackson?" Janet asked, not missing the troubled expression on his face.

"Yeah," Daniel assured her, forcing a bright smile.  "That's all."

It was the truth, wasn't it?

Of course it was.  He was almost positive…

"Okay then," Janet smiled.  "I don't see any reason to keep you here, Daniel, you check out just fine, you no longer seem to be suffering any physical after effects of the incident, basically from what I can see you're fine."

"So you're cutting him loose, then?"  Jack interjected a little too quickly and eagerly.

"That's what I said, Colonel," Janet murmured, making a notation in Daniel's file, her eyes deliberately averted from the colonel's face so she wouldn't accidentally see any betraying traces in it about a quality of concern for Daniel the colonel shouldn't be exhibiting and she shouldn't know about.  "Get some rest, get a good night's sleep, and we'll see you both in the morning," she smiled at the man happily jumping off the examining table.

"Oh and Daniel," she added, touching him lightly on the arm.  "The next alien building you go into, let the Colonel go first," she teased.

"I did go first!"  Jack sniffed haughtily, sweeping Daniel away from her and swiftly out of the infirmary, a firm hand in the small of his back subtly taking possession while emphatically propelling.


"Keys," Jack demanded once they left the gear-up room, having showered and changed.

"What?" Daniel blankly stared at the man loping down the corridor at his side.

"You don't think you're driving, now do you?" Jack replied, his expression clearly conveying there was only one right answer to the question.

"Um, well I could, but – I – I guess….no."

"Exactly," Jack smiled.  "I'm driving.  But we took your car this morning because my truck's in the shop.  Remember?"  The emphasis Jack put on the last word and the way he was eyeing Daniel betrayed Jack's less than total conviction of either Daniel's assertions or Fraiser's pronouncement Daniel was indeed 'fine'.

"Yeah, Jack, I remember," Daniel muttered, stifling a sudden pang of resentment.

"So – keys," Jack demanded again, holding out his hand.

Sighing, Daniel fished his car keys out of his jacket pocket and dropped them in Jack's waiting palm.  "I even remember where we parked.  Need me to prove it?" he retorted a little meanly.

"You scared the crap out of me, Daniel," Jack harshly blurted, not repenting his attitude an iota even in the face of Daniel's.  "I thought that thing had completely disintegrated you or something.  I couldn't see you for a second and then – you were – "

Couldn't see him? That was right, for an instant, he couldn't see Jack, he wasn't there  – and then –

"I'm fine, Jack," Daniel gave his partner's arm a reassuring squeeze as they entered the elevator.  Jack slouched against the back of the ascending metal box, his arms folded across his chest, glaring at Daniel and still simmering.

"And what was up with that crap after you woke up?" Jack continued, wary and grumpy.  "You were going on about going back into that damned building like some kind of nut case.  It was creepy.  It was also extremely off the wall, even for you!"

"Yeah, I know," Daniel grimaced and absently rubbed the back of his neck.  "I just – it seemed important at the time that we finish – do what we went there to do.  I mean, after all it was only – "

"It was only you potentially at risk, is that what you're saying?"  Jack belligerently demanded, turning on Daniel, his dark eyes angrily flaring.  "Why stop there, why don't you say 'whatever was in that damned place as far as you were concerned was more important than you'?  What about that?"  Jack snapped, jabbing an accusing finger into Daniel's chest.

"Well, that may have been the way it sounded, but it wasn't what I meant," Daniel returned without conviction.  "Not – not really."

"Wasn't it?"  Jack's eyes narrowed as he peered suspiciously at Daniel.  "You may be fooling yourself, Daniel, but you're not fooling me."

"Maybe I was thinking along those lines…a little."

"Ya think?"

"You're mad at me now," Daniel sighed, deflating, sagging miserably into the back corner of the elevator, his arms wrapped around his chest.

"No," Jack said crisply, giving the back of Daniel's neck a brief, but reassuring squeeze.  "I'm not mad, Daniel.  I'm concerned.  Huge difference.  I'm becoming increasingly concerned by this tendency you have for – for lack of a better way of putting it – selling yourself short.  You know, considering yourself to be not worth anyone's time or effort for whatever reason.  I don't like when you do it, it's not true and I don't like that you think it is.  We are going to talk about this, but – " Jack hastened to assure Daniel as alarm flashed over his features  " – but not tonight.  Tonight you're under doctor's orders to rest and my plans for the evening are to drive you home, feed you and put you to bed."

Daniel smothered a smile and lowered his head, not daring to look at Jack's face and the smutty grin he knew was gloating all over it.  Though the words Jack had just uttered could have been innocently interpreted in context there was plenty of filth in the delivery leaving absolutely no doubt in Daniel's mind what was in Jack's.

Well, he could play too.

"And if I'm very good will you stay long enough to tuck me in?" Daniel coyly murmured to his shoes.

Jack sidled up to him before replying in a barely audible but deeply erotic mutter.

"Tucker you in, and out.  However long it takes.  Could be an all night job, you ask me.  You look like you need a lot of tuckering."

"Oh, I'm hoping," Daniel happily sighed.


"Daniel, you're supposed to eat your food, not play with it."

Daniel frowned at the morsel of steak he was batting with his fork.  The headache was back, not thudding and insistently painful the way it had been before, more of an annoying background rumble.  Persistent, perpetual and pissing him off.  It and the hissing sound in his ears that would not go away either. 

What the hell was that noise, anyway, it was…bizarre.

"Daniel?"

Not – hissing, that wasn't quite the right way to describe it.  He started to listen more closely to the sound, trying to quantify its exact quality.  It was a constant droning, but it wasn't steady, it changed, not quite getting louder and softer, but  fluctuating almost musically, or, or like…murmuring.  Okay, now that couldn't be, but Daniel could swear, the more closely he listened, concentrated, he could almost hear patterns in the sounds, it had a cadence and rhythm like speech, spoken phrases – words…

"DANIEL!"

"What?"  Daniel snapped, intensely irritated at the distraction ruining his concentration when he'd been so close to make sense of the strange sounds.  And then he realised what had intruded into his thoughts.

Jack, leaning across the dining room table, bellowing his name at him in an effort to get his attention.  Daniel's head jerked up as he started guiltily, realising he'd zoned out on Jack yet again, his gaze immediately levelling with the anxious brown eyes focussed on him.

"I'm sorry," he muttered, painfully aware his cheeks were flaming.  "I didn't hear – I was thinking.  You were saying?" he finished inanely.

"I was wondering when you were going to get around to actually eating that lovely dinner I slaved over a hot barbeque to prepare for you," Jack said sweetly, the concern in his eyes marring the 'just another typical night chez O'Neill' expression he was trying to present.  "I think you're tortured it long enough, don't you?"

"Um, okay."  Daniel managed a weak smile, then speared the nearest piece of meat and thrust it in his mouth.  He chewed through several morsels without tasting them, enduring the concerted focus of Jack's scrutiny during the entire ordeal before putting down his fork and shrugging.

"I'm sorry, but I can't – it looks great, Jack, but I'm just not very hungry."

"Pretty much worked that out on my own," Jack replied, his concern warring with his heroic determination not to pry or be his usually offensively overprotective self. 

Concern won.

"Daniel, are you sure you're all right?"

"Tired," Daniel sighed truthfully.  Much too weary to endure a session of Jack's well-meaning, but often overwhelming solicitude.  He had to escape those all-seeing, too caring eyes.  Just for a little while, just until he got some rest, stopped feeling so – disconnected - and could cope again.   "It's been a busy day.  I think I'll go to bed."

"Now you're talking!"  Jack happily leered at him and pushed his chair back.

"No!"  Daniel blurted too loudly, too quickly.  Jack froze in the middle of rising from the chair, gaping at Daniel as if he'd suddenly sprouted wings.  "I mean," Daniel began weakly, trying not to fumble over his explanation. "I want to go to bed.  To - to sleep.  I – I have a headache."

The two men stared at each other.  Daniel barely avoided cringing as Jack's eyebrows climbed.

"That's a cliché you know, Daniel," he finally dryly observed.  "And you know how I feel about clichés."

Daniel was looking so utterly miserable Jack couldn't take it any more.  "Oh for crying out loud," he snarled.  "Don't move!" he barked as he finished rising and strode out of the room, to return several moments later with a glass of water and a bottle of Tylenol.  He plunked the tumbler on the table in front of Daniel, muttering under his breath while unscrewing the cap off the bottle of pills and tapping a couple into the palm of his hand.  Daniel silently endured the glowering and grumbling feeling wretched, but still totally committed to his need to be quickly Jack-less.

"Here," Jack gruffly instructed, dropping the tablets onto the table beside the glass.  "Take these and put your ass to bed."  He turned his back on Daniel and began to energetically assemble the dishes and cutlery resting on the table prior to removing them.  "Get some sleep.  I'll…clean up here first and be along in a little while.  I'll try not to wake you when I come to bed."

"Thanks," Daniel said before swallowing the pills.  He knew he probably should say more, but he was so relieved Jack was letting him get off easy.  Jack was being so good to him, really making an effort to suppress his usually pathological need to helpfully meddle. It was no small feat of self-control Jack was exercising for his sake, and the guiltily retreating man unabashed bailing on him was painfully aware of what a selfish shit he was being.

But he couldn't help it.  He needed – he just needed to be alone.

Having taken his pills like a good little archaeologist Daniel quirked an uncertain smile at Jack then shot to his feet and frankly bolted.  He could feel Jack's eyes all over him as he hastily exited the dining room, only just restraining himself from breaking into an actual run.

"What, no good night kiss?" Jack whined as Daniel rounded the corner and was preparing to scoot down the hall to the bedroom now he actually was out of Jack's line of sight.

The unvarnished hurt in Jack's voice drew him up cold.  Daniel leaned against the wall, appalled with himself.  What exactly what was he doing here?  Running away – from Jack?  Why?  Why had he felt it necessary to cut him like that, to put him off, to put the brakes on their evening – an evening he had been looking forward to not so long ago every bit as much as Jack assuredly had been.  And he had been.  Hey, possible 'tuckering' activities had been paramount in his thoughts practically the entire drive home.

And then what?  What had happened to change that?  How had he gone from couldn't wait to get home with Jack, being glad to be home with Jack, wanting to be with Jack, wanting to be naked and sweaty with Jack to not wanting to have anything to do with Jack?   Trying to put as much distance between them as possible?

Was that what he really wanted?

No, of course not!  And what did it matter how it had happened, it wasn't what he wanted, and it sure the hell wasn't what Jack wanted, so he wasn't gonna do it!  He was going to turn his sorry ass around right this minute, march back in there, throw his arms around Jack and kiss the shit out of him.  He figured that would cover the major part of the 'I'm sorrys' for starters, and he was sure some other ways of making it up to Jack would come to him as the evening progressed.

Daniel turned, intending to immediately backtrack to Jack when a blinding white light exploded behind his eyes, blanketing his mind with pain.  Gasping he staggered back, thumping into the wall, pinned to its impassive surface by the white fire sizzling his brain.

Ow. Ow.  This hurt, this hurt bad.  The roaring in his ears was almost as painful.  He had to – he had to lie down.  Bed.  Go to bed.  Lying down, sleeping, that would make it better.  That's what he had to do.  That was the most important thing he could do right now.  Vital to, had to, nothing else mattered…

Lie down.  Sleep.

Sleep.


Crap, crap, crap.  When exactly were people going to stop pooping on his party today?  Operation 'Doing Daniel' had been scrubbed so he'd been forced to fall back on Plan B, a fun-filled, thrilled-packed evening of pouting, sulking and drinking, and then that had been ruined for him too when the damned phone had rung and here he was, stuck chatting with Carter.  And he hadn't even managed to get his first beer yet.

"What can I do for you, Carter," Jack barked at the phone, making absolutely no effort to modify his mood.  Why should he?  He was a-nnoyed.  And what’s more, he was in his own damned house; he could be as pissed off as he pleased.  She was the one who’d called him; she didn't like it she could just –

"I was wondering how Daniel was feeling, Sir," Sam shot back, completely undaunted by his snarky salutation.

"He's just peachy, Carter," Jack returned.  "Probably sawing logs as we speak."

"Well, that's good he's feeling better," Sam continued.  "And I'm glad you're keeping an eye on him."

"Part of my job description, Carter," Jack drawled a little too casually.

"Whatever you say, Sir."

"Anything else I can do for you, Carter?" Jack asked while fervently hoping there wasn't.

"Actually, I was kind of hoping to speak to Daniel, are you sure he's asleep  – "

"Carter, I thought you had plans," Jack interjected, opting for unexpected, and hopefully unwanted interrogation as a deterrent to further conversation.  The last damned thing he was going to do right now was bother Daniel, especially if it was for some weird-ass sciency thing Carter had let herself get sucked into and she was calling to rope Daniel along for the ride as well.

If he couldn't get any Daniel action tonight well, she wasn't going to either.  So there.

Besides, Carter had PLANS.  Or so she'd claimed.  What the hell was she doing calling up Daniel if she had PLANS.  Plans.  He'd had plans, damned good plans, and now he had other plans, maybe not so good as the first ones but they was better than then getting red hot pokers thrust into his eyes so yeah, he had plans too, sure he did, and listening to Carter yap didn't figure into any of them.

"Well, I do, Sir, as a matter of fact I'm about to head out the door, I just thought I'd take a minute to check in with Daniel before I left."

"I?" Jack demanded, twigging on the pronoun.  "Not 'we'?"

"Just me Sir," Sam returned with a sigh.  "I'll be a 'we' later when I get there.

"Isn't he coming to pick you up?  Why not?"

"No Sir, he's not.  I'm going to pick him up because he doesn't have a – Sir, I don't think this is any of your business!" Sam finished, a definite defensive edge to her voice.

Okay, there it is, here we go, another one pissed off at him for giving a damn.  When were these people going to learn looking out for their best interests was his business?

He was far too sober for this particular conversation.  Beer, it was definitely time to go get a beer.

"Geez, Carter, don't get so touchy, I'm just looking out for you," Jack said as he hauled himself off the couch and commenced to haul ass towards the kitchen.

"Thanks for thinking of me but I'm quite capable of looking after myself, Colonel," Sam's crisp tones abraded his ear as he started to climb the stairs to the main level of the house.

His terribly witty riposte evaporated on the tip of his tongue as he turned his head and saw Daniel standing at the front door.

Eyes wide open, hand on the door-knob, apparently in the process of opening the door, no doubt with the intention of leaving the house.

Stark naked.

"Geez!"  Jack swore into the phone.  "Sorry, Carter, can't talk now, gotta go!"

"Oh no you don't, buddy!'  Jack muttered under his breath as he abruptly broke the connection, tossed the phone and dove for Daniel.  He slammed against the door, forcing it closed with his body weight and keeping it that way as he threw the deadbolt to prevent any further efforts to open it by naked archaeologists who didn't seem to realise they were naked or if they did, didn't seem to care and still, it would seem wanted out.

But definitely weren't going to get past him.

"Daniel, are you nuts?" Jack roared, rounding on the nude man behind him.

Daniel was standing eerily still, wide-eyed but unseeing, staring fixedly at the door right through him like he wasn't there.  Apparently not only completely oblivious to his presence, but also evidently determined to continue with his original intention of going through the door in his birthday suit.

What the hell?  Sleepwalking?  Is this what was going on?  Daniel was sleepwalking?  Holy buckets, this was new!  And it sucked! Wherever Daniel had acquired this latest terrifying behavioural anomaly from Jack didn't know, didn't care he just wanted Daniel to snap out of it and never do it again.

"Daniel, you do not need to be picking up any new weird-ass habits," Jack groaned, grabbing the hand continuing to stubbornly reach for the doorknob once again, its owner seemingly blissfully oblivious to the presence of the equally determined and slightly freaked obstruction he was virtually nose to nose with.

As soon as his fingers closed around Daniel's wrist Jack winced.  Oh crap, he wasn't exactly sure, but how did that thing go about sleepwalkers again, it was dangerous to touch them or just dangerous to wake them?  Well, it wasn't like he had a lot of choice, he wasn't going to stand aside and let Daniel walk through that door no matter what state of undress he happened to be in, never mind trailing after him waiting for him to snap out of it.

So the waking up thing?  He'd risk it.

"Daniel," Jack whispered as he gently took Daniel by the arms, peering deliberately into his empty, glassy eyes hoping to spark some connection or recognition.  Nothing.  There wasn't so much as a flicker of acknowledgement of either Jack's presence or his touch; Daniel stared stonily ahead at the door, continuing to doggedly reach for the knob around the concerned man between him and his objective as if he wasn't there.

"I don't understand," Daniel said suddenly, unexpectedly, his eyes and face still eerily expressionless.

Jack was pretty certain he wasn't the one Daniel was talking to, but it was something.

"Daniel, it's me.  Come on, baby wake up.  You're scaring me here."

"Please – I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you want," Daniel spoke again. "Agada?  What does that mean?"

"Aw crap," Jack muttered as Daniel began to softly, repeatedly reiterate the unfamiliar word.  He was in way over his head, here and he knew it.  Daniel stubbornly refused to be roused from this – funk – he was in and now, here he was, repeatedly reciting gibberish.  He had to snap Daniel out of it, had to make him wake up.  So, as it seemed the gentle approach wasn't cutting it…

Gritting his teeth and praying he wasn't about to do more harm than good Jack tightened his grip on Daniel's arms and shook him.  Not gently.

"Danny!" Jack cried, giving Daniel another firm shake.  "Danny, wake up!"

Daniel abruptly gasped, his eyes widening with alarm.  He shuddered, his eyes blazing once more with intelligence and awareness as well as deep distress and confusion.  His knees promptly buckled and he would have gone straight down to the floor but for Jack immediately stepping into him and wrapping strong arms around him, shoring him up and seeking to comfort at the same time.

Daniel leaned into him, letting Jack hold him for several seconds while he panted and tried to reorient himself.

"Jack," he murmured, convulsively clutched the man holding him tightly.  "What am I doing here – what – oh God! They're here!"

The anguished cry wrenched out of Daniel as he unexpectedly pushed against Jack, breaking from his consoling embrace.  Jack suppressed a horrified utterance of his own as he watched Daniel spring away from him, flattening himself against the wall, his panicked gaze terrified and bouncing all over the empty hallway as if he was looking at something and whatever it was, it was obviously scaring the crap out of him.

Even though there was nothing where Daniel was looking was but empty air.

"They're here!  They're here!" Daniel gibbered.

"Who, Daniel.  Who's here?" Jack entreated, trying to calm the agitated man.

"No – no don't!"  Daniel moaned as his legs gave way and he began to slowly slide down the wall towards the floor.  Jack took a step toward him, extending a helpless hand Daniel ignored.  No matter what Daniel was saying there was nothing there, nothing for him to fight and no way to keep whatever Daniel was so scared of away from him because there was nothing – nothing there.

And yet Daniel continued to react as if there was.  He crashed to the floor immediately slumping down on one side, rolling up in a ball, his head tucked beneath his sheltering arms, knees drawn up to his chest.

"Don't! he wailed, his anguished voice muffled.  "Don't touch me!  Don't!  I can't help you  - there's nothing I can do!  I don't understand what you want.  I don't understand!"

Jack stood over him, staring dumbly, so shocked by Daniel's behaviour he could barely think.  Jesus Christ this was just like – like when Daniel had Ma'chello's slug inside him and he went nuts, swearing he was seeing those dead Goould guys who weren't there.  Oh God, not that, not again!

 "Agada!"  Daniel choked.  "Agada!  Agada!"

"That tears it," Jack snapped as he knelt down beside Daniel and took him in his arms once more.  "We're getting you back to the mountain ASAP."


He was lying on his back in thick, long grass.  How odd to feel it tickling his nose, especially when he had no idea why he was currently anywhere involving grass, tickling his nose or otherwise.

Or why he was flat on his back, for that matter.

A curious low murmuring interrupted Daniel's confusion, prompting him to open his eyes in order to investigate.  All he could see was an unbroken ring of figures standing over him, completely surrounding him looking down at him.

Staring at him. 

Unfamiliar faces, alien faces, not the faces he expected to see.  People.  Lots and lots of them.  And – and they were speaking.  All of them, all at once but not simultaneously.  That was the source of the murmuring he'd heard, all these people softly saying the same word, over and over again but not in unison so the mingling sounds of their utterances rippled through the air, cascading layers of sibilance, caressing and intriguing.

"Agada," the strange people staring down at him insistently reiterated, their faces pleading and heavy with the urgency of desperation.

Daniel didn't know what they were saying but he did understand need when he saw it.  Whoever these people were – they needed something badly.  Something from him.

"What is it?"  Daniel said to the sea of urgently expectant faces ringing him round.  "I don't understand.  What do you want?"

"Agada!  Agada!"  The people continued to insist, pushing closer, the pitch of their entreaties increasing, becoming more demanding, making Daniel suddenly apprehensive as the sheer, intimidating weight of their expectation and need pressed in on him.  Whoever these people were, they were clearly desperate, swiftly becoming careless of concealing it and whatever they wanted, needed; they expected him to be able to supply it.

"Please," he entreated as he sat up, wanting to retreat from the unfamiliar, demanding bodies bustling and crowding into him, but having nowhere to go to escape them.  "I'd help you if I could, but I don't understand."

"Sha-sa!"  A strong voice cut across the all the others battering his senses.  Instantly the throng was silent.  Startled, Daniel looked directly ahead to where the voice had originated and found himself gazing up at the lean figure of an older man.  He was similarly dressed as the others in flowing, brightly coloured robes and like them was extremely pale, with an unnaturally elongated face and oversized, expressive eyes.  Aside from the fact he was bald Daniel wasn't exactly sure how he got the impression the man was a more mature representative of his race because his smooth alien countenance didn't show any traces of the sort of wear and tear he was used to seeing denoting the visage being considered had been lived in far longer than most, and yet there was something about him strongly suggestive not only age, but authority.  Maybe it was the sadness in the eyes the most amazing shade of – well, they were orange – but that wasn't important right now, what was  - was the suffering they harboured.  There was anguish there too, in this man's eyes as well as in all the others of varied and unusual hues trained hopefully upon him. Dreadful anguish and distress, but none were as eloquently desolate as those of the man who carried the responsibility for the well-being of all these troubled people on his obviously overburdened shoulders

These people were in trouble.  And this man was their leader.

"Daniel," he said to the man with the orange eyes, touching his hand to his chest.  "I'm Daniel."

"Agada, Daniel," the man solemnly intoned, gesturing toward him, indicating he should rise. 

"Agada," Daniel repeated frowning.  "What is that – is that – that's your name?”

The man merely stared at him, saying nothing but continuing to gesture. 

"Not your name, then.  Okay, Agada is something else?"  He looked up unhappily at the man.  "I'm sorry, I don't know what you want me to do."

"Na vaka ri shon," the man addressed the people around him, his right arm describing a sweeping, almost imperious outward arc through the air.  Immediately the throng parted, receding away from the man's outstretched arm like a living curtain of flesh surging back before Moses' Staff.  The twin opposing lines of bodies formed a narrow corridor, and as Daniel gazed down the newly created void stretching before him he could see what the sea of people lapping about him had formerly been obstructing.

The hilltop tower on P8X-807 shining serenely in the distance. 

Oh.

Something else he could see for the first time.  Just how large the crowd surrounding him really was.  The tower appeared to be strangely distant, a lot farther away than it should have been because as nearly as he could remember, the hilltop plateau where it was located wasn't as large as where the tower seemed to be from where he was relative to it now, and yet there it was, and so were all these people.  Thousands of them, literally, a vast and daunting human ocean flowing all over the entire surface of the plateau continuing unceasingly from the people immediately clustered around him all the way to the tower and – beyond it.

God, all these people!  So many of them!  Why were they here, what did they want – what did it all mean?

"Agada!" the leader said again, firmly compelling his attention and entreating.  "Agada," he insisted, pointing toward the tower.  "Agada.  Orga ro."

"You want me to go – there?"  Daniel asked eagerly, searching the man's face for clues.  "You want me to – there's something you want me to do in there?"

"Orgo ro," the man nodded, smiling encouragingly and gesturing as Daniel slowly got to his feet, nervously glancing at the nearest representatives of the throng and hoping they wouldn't start crowding in on him again now he was in motion.  Go there.  Go to the tower.  That's what they wanted.  He could do that.

He started to walk, his eyes fixed on the gleaming white length of his destination.  He still had no idea why he was going there, but that didn't seem to be as important as simply getting there, no matter what.  He had a long way to go, again, that didn't seem to be quite right from what he remembered from before, but he could plainly see how far away the tower was so 'right' or not, there was no arguing with the evidence of his eyes and it didn't matter how far away or how long it would take, he'd just keep going until he got there. 

"Avana aja tiramon," the man said suddenly, startling Daniel by his proximity, as he hadn't realised the solemn alien had been walking by his side. What was he saying now? 

"Yisha nikal," the alien continued to gravely intone as if he was issuing a set of instructions.

And then again he could have been commenting on the weather, Daniel had no idea.

"I don't understand," Daniel regretfully explained again, his frustration with his inability to communicate rising as the mystery of these people and the situation itself gnawed at his curiosity.

Okay, this was strange.  He was trying to go forward but he wasn't moving.  It was as if he'd suddenly come up against some sort of invisible barrier.  His arms were heavy, leaden, pressed to his sides.  He struggled against the pressure, straining to extend his right arm forward and the resistance increased.  What was going on?

"Agada!" the man beside him urged.  "Nisti ta ro! Agada!"

"Please – I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you want," Daniel retorted, not wanting to get angry with the man, but his expectations and insistence were becoming annoying, as was his own inability to make any sense of what was going on, especially this newest and strangest development.  And then there was that damned word again. Agada?  What did that mean?

And why the hell did the alien keep repeating it?

Daniel blinked in surprise as his solemn escort unexpectedly stepped swiftly in front of him.  Bewildered, he stared into the enigmatic orange eyes locked to his, watching bemused as the man's mouth opened.

"Aw crap," he said with Jack's voice.  And then the world exploded around him.

Shaking and reeling with vertiginous dread, Daniel snapped back to full awareness to find himself in the foyer of Jack's house, face to face with its owner  gripping him firmly by the arms and shaking him.  Daniel wasn't able to do much more than emit a strangled squawk of distress at the dreadfully disorienting transition.  He didn't understand where he was, what was going on and couldn't seem to stop his legs from becoming gelatinous and completely incapable of holding him up.

Jack.  He'd forgotten about Jack but the powerful arms winding around him were all the reminder he needed Jack was here and he wouldn't let him down.  Literally.  Shuddering with relief Daniel allowed himself to sink gratefully into the unflagging support Jack was providing, burying his face in Jack's firm, warm chest while his mind sputtered and flailed about searching for equilibrium and some scrap of sanity.

Okay, he was okay.  He was with Jack, he was safe, he just had to calm down and he'd be able to figure this out.

"Jack," he murmured, convulsively clutching at his bastion and comfort.  "What am I doing here – "

"Agada!"  A terrifyingly familiar voice which couldn't possibly exist and certainly shouldn't be here sounded demandingly in his right ear.

Startled and scared Daniel's head jerked up from the sanctuary of Jack's shoulder.  "What?" he blurted, and looked into the face of what could only be madness.

And it had many faces.  Thrusting themselves brazenly into his awareness, peering at him from over Jack's shoulder, behind his back, all around him, filling the foyer behind Jack, long, pale, desperate faces, haunting, pleading, relentlessly chanting.

Agada. 

This couldn't be real, wasn't happening, he couldn't be seeing this Jack – Jack wasn't seeing this, all these people, not really here, only him, he was the only one oh no, oh God was he going insane?

"Oh God! They're here!" he cried, scrambling away from Jack and the nagging throng crowding around him and beginning to circumvent the barrier he'd briefly presented, spilling around Jack like he wasn't there, advancing toward him.  Coming for him…

Jack's presence and all the comfort and assurance he automatically provided was completely forgotten in Daniel's unreasoning panic to get away from the relentlessly advancing, seemingly endless mass of people.  Who weren't real, they couldn't be, they couldn't be here; Jack didn't seem to see them so they weren't really there, so it was just him and that meant he was – he was crazy.   No, no, not again.  He wasn't going to go through this again, not seeing weird aliens, didn't want to, he had to make this stop happening but they were still there, even though he was trying hard not to see them and they continued to flow relentlessly around Jack, coming toward him, reaching out, to touch, to drag him down with them into another unwanted purgatory of madness, isolation and suffering.

No, no, no, no, please no….


"I'm sorry, Colonel but I can't find any physiological reason for Daniel's current condition. "

"You're sure?  He hasn't got elevated – dopawhatever levels - or little bumps crawling around under his skin?"

"Dopamine.  And no. Colonel, all his tests are bang on normal, the same as before.  I realise the behaviour you claim he was exhibiting prior to his arrival here was fairly alarming – "

"That's one way of putting it," Jack snarled at the diminutive doctor.  "One minute he's a freaking zombie trying to barge out my front door and the next he's curled up on the floor screaming his head off.  Then halfway here he conks out again and nobody can wake him up.  So," Jack loomed over her, glaring.  "If there's nothing wrong with him why, then, is he in a blasted coma?"

"Sir, like Janet said, technically it isn't a coma," Sam smoothly interceded, stepping up to Janet's side.

"No, his brainwaves and rapid eye movement clearly indicate he's in normal REM sleep," Janet crisply affirmed, undaunted by Jack's pissy colonel posturing.

"So then why won't he wake up?"  Jack demanded belligerently.

"I don't know."

"Yanno, I really hated this whole 'it's not really a coma' song and dance routine the first time we played this game after that damned glowy kid zapped him, and I'm not liking it any better now," Jack shot back at Janet, aware he was on the verge of losing not only his patience, but his self-control as well, but not really caring.

The response of the other three people in the room fated to be the immediate unfortunate recipients of the incipient wrath of O'Neill was almost instantaneous.

"Calm yourself, O'Neill," Teal'c rumbled a warning.

"Colonel, it's not Janet's fault, and with all due respect, getting angry isn't going to solve anything – "

"Colonel, if I knew anything more I would tell you – "

"Jack?" a faint voice drowsily demanded.  "Wha – what's with all the yelling?"

"Daniel!" Jack blurted, bounding back to the head of the bed and barely restraining the impulse to roar his relief.  "You're awake!"

"Apparently."  Daniel's brave attempt at a reassuring smile wavered.  For a too brief instant their eyes locked, concern instantly kissing Daniel's brow as he took in the worry Jack couldn't help revealing, then the blue eyes flickered away, darting all about, becoming clouded with confusion upon seeing where, without understanding how or why.

"Infirmary," he murmured, looking back to Jack, panic flaring in his eyes.  "But we were – what am I doing here?"

Daniel gazed up at him helplessly, his eyes huge with his desperate need for the reassurance he sought and desired from no one else.  The naked 'make it better, Jack' in Daniel's tragic face tore Jack up inside, both because it was there, and because he was the one Daniel trusted and automatically looked to, to make it right.  Daniel wanted, needed him.  

Him.

For most of his life Daniel had been a solitary traveller, coping with all the crap fate threw at him completely alone, stoically carrying his cargo of woe comfortless but enduring, and not looking for or expecting any helping hand along the way.  Well things change, and not always for the worst, and so they had for Daniel when he'd met Jack O'Neill.

The isolated, untouchable and inviolate had come face to face with the indefatigable, the inevitable and the irrepressible and love had won.  Daniel had let him in, and he'd been changed.  Now when the bad stuff hit Daniel didn't run away, fold in on himself, try and beat back the bleakness all on his own.  He allowed himself the previously undreamt of luxury of expectation.  Now, Daniel reached out, he expected, he needed –

And what he most needed right now Jack couldn't do for him.  Well, not the full meal deal, the Jack O'Neill 'good for what ails ya come into my arms, baby' special, but he made sure Daniel understood he meant much more than he could say with the gentle hand he laid firmly on his shoulder.  A simple, innocuous touch to all other eyes, but to the only one who mattered in that gentle, but firm gesture Jack gave everything he was.

"It's okay," Jack soothed, his fingers tightening, surreptitiously stroking.  "You're safe."

I'm here. I love you.  We're gonna get through this together.

Daniel's eyes briefly closed, he heaved a gentle sigh.  Jack could feel the clenched muscles beneath his fingers relax as Daniel let go and slid into his tacit, utter trust of the man standing beside him.  He'd just been given all he needed in order to face whatever was coming.  Daniel knew he wasn't alone. 

When he opened his eyes again they were glowing with quiet, but complete faith and gratitude.

"Daniel!"  Sam exclaimed, not quite succeeding in disguising her apprehension as she sidled up to the right side of the bed.  "How are you feeling?"

"Sam?"  Daniel replied puzzled, looking toward the sound of her voice, realizing for the first time Jack wasn't actually the only person in the room.  "What are you – oh wow, Sam!  You look sensational!" he exclaimed with sincere and generous admiration after getting his first clear look at her.

Blindsided by the unexpected, enthusiastic compliment Sam flushed with pleasure and shyly ducked her head.  "Gee, thanks, Daniel," she said with a self-conscious grin.  " This?  Oh, it's nothing really, just a little something I – um – that is – I was – "

Distracted by her uncharacteristic, and extremely unexpected feminine fluttering Jack whirled to see what she was going on about and actually looked at her.  Something he hadn't really done since she'd come tearing into the infirmary with Teal'c right behind her about twenty minutes after he'd smoked in with Daniel.  So he hadn't looked at her, so what, it's not like he didn't know what she looked like, he saw her practically every damned day, for crying out loud and he'd been kinda busy at the time, what with Daniel being out of it and all, too preoccupied to notice what she was wearing, but now he was looking, holy buckets, it definitely wasn't standard issue. 

Carter was dressed to kill and in that get-up, she didn’t need her P-90 to knock ’em dead!.  Sweet, slinky black dress, looked like it was painted on her and those shoes?  Ouch, killer!  She was wearing way more makeup than he'd ever seen on her, in or out of uniform, but it didn't look bad, it looked great on her, as a matter of fact and yeah, it was  - it was pretty damned sexy.  Not a word he usually associated with Carter, not that she wasn't a very attractive woman, which she was, even in standard issue, but she usually wasn't so…girlie.  She'd done something with her hair too, it was…fluffier.  Softer.  Looked really good.  So did she.

Wow.  His 2IC was a babe.  Who knew?

"Crap, Carter you clean up pretty good," Jack blurted with a surprised grin.  "You've been holding out on us."

"Aw come on guys," Carter glowered at them, professing annoyance at the attention but inwardly pleased they'd noticed.  "Cut it out!"

"No," Daniel protested.  "Jack's right, you look amazing.   Oh, oh wait. You were going out", he said softly, his face falling as he remembered.

Oh yeah.  The PLANS.

"Now your evening's ruined!"  Daniel continued sorrowfully.  "And it's my fault. I'm sorry. You shouldn't have – not for – you didn't have to – "

"Don't be silly, Daniel, of course we did," Sam scolded him, roughly ruffling his hair with a fond hand.  "The restaurant will still be there tomorrow, you're much more important.  Besides, until I knew you were all right, how could I have enjoyed myself?"

"But what about your date?"  Daniel insisted, clearly not reassured he hadn't in fact ruined her life.

Sam smiled crookedly at him and shook her head.  "Believe me, Daniel, he understands.  He's used to last minute cancellations and changes of plans due to unforeseen circumstances.  He'll still be there tomorrow too", she reassured him with a sunny smile.

"Any man who would not be would also not be worthy of you," Teal'c informed her smoothly, his deep rich voice flowing generously over them carrying a subtle current of meaning incongruent enough to catch Jack's attention.  Sam blushed again, throwing the Jaffa a lingering sidelong glance accompanied by an inscrutable smile. 

What?

"And Teal'c," Daniel turned his contrite eyes upon their Jaffa friend.  "Look at you, you were obviously headed out as well.  I've messed up your evening too."

Whoa.  Obviously.  Once again Jack got a surprise as he looked anew at one of his kids whose presence he'd just accepted without noticing there were distinct changes in his customary appearance as well.

It was plain from his attire the big guy hadn't been planning on kel no reeming his evening away.  That is, unless he'd suddenly developed a penchant for mediating in a very sharp sport jacket, crisp linen dress slacks and a black turtleneck sweater.  The black, wide-brimmed Fedora he was proudly sporting was also definitely overkill for a fun filled evening of navel contemplation.

Or whatever, considering the big guy didn't have a navel.

"I can pursue my planned recreational activities for the evening another time," Teal'c gravely informed him.  "You are more important, DanielJackson."

"Thanks," Daniel said with a rueful grimace.  "I appreciate the thought, really, even though I'm sure whatever it was you had planned would have been a lot more fun than," he waggled a hand at the room. "Than hanging out in this place.  You guys are the best," he beamed at them, and then frowned again.  "But one thing I don't understand.  You're here.  Not that you shouldn't be – " he quickly amended, "if you want to be, but what I mean is - how did you – I mean, Jack and I were – and you were – how did you know?"

Good question.  Jack suddenly realised he'd be wondering that very thing himself.

"I was on the phone with the colonel," Sam explained, her face becoming troubled once more.  "He ended the call unexpectedly, and from what he said, I got the impression…" She paused and patted Daniel's arm before continuing.  "I called back to see if everything was okay and when I didn't get an answer I called Janet.  She's the one who told me the colonel had just called her and he was bringing you in here because you were having some kind of…episode…"

"I – I was?"  Daniel murmured, paling.

"Major Carter of course immediately informed me of your need for us when she arrived."  Teal'c finished.

"It was on the way," Sam shrugged.

"Episode?" Daniel echoed, licking his lips distractedly as if he hadn't heard anything else she'd said after that one obviously troubling word.

"Yeah, about that!" Jack grated, becoming irritated with the tangent the conversation had strayed along.  What Carter and Teal'c got up to off-duty was none of his concern, especially when he had so many others currently being sidelined.  "Now that we've established all of our plans for the evening have gone out the window can we focus, here, and get back to Daniel?"

"Yes, I think that would be a good idea," Janet said briskly, brushing past Jack in order to directly address her patient.  "I believe Sam asked you something we'd all like to know right now.  How are you feeling?"

"Fine," Daniel quickly answered her, his eyes resting briefly on her composed and yet concerned features before darting to Jack, seeking direction and reassurance.  "I'm a little confused, though," he admitted.  "I was asleep…"

"What do you remember, Daniel?" Janet gently probed.

"What does the word 'agada' mean, Daniel?" Jack interjected, not so gently, before Daniel could answer her.

"Agada?" Daniel stared at him blankly.  "Um – I – I have no idea.  I've never heard it before."

"Nor have I, DanielJackson," Teal'c supplied.

"Well I have," Jack said.  "You were screaming it at the top of your lungs.  Along with a lot of other stuff that didn't make any sense."

"I was not!"  Daniel asserted, stunned.

"Were to!" Jack snapped back.

"I – I – " Daniel floundered in the face of Jack's ruthless certainty.

Janet shot Jack a quelling look as she placed a calming hand on Daniel's shoulder.  "Easy Daniel," she soothed.  "Let's take our time and start at the beginning, shall we?"  She paused and glared at Jack again until he held up his hands and took a step back.

"I was just trying to help," he grumbled.

"I understand that, Sir," Janet said and pointed meaningfully at a spot at the foot of the bed.  "Maybe you could try doing it from over there.  Now Daniel," she continued, her full attention trained on the apprehensive man lying in the bed.  "Are you saying you don't remember anything that happened from the time you went to bed at the colonel's house and then woke up here?"

"No," Daniel cautiously replied.  "I was having a dream but – why?" He suddenly blurted, becoming alarmed at the sympathetic ring of solemn faces around him.  "Did I do something after I went to bed?  That's it, isn't it?" he gulped.  "It's happened again.  I did something and I don't remember doing it. What did I do, Jack?" he finally appealed to the man staring at him from his current position of exile at the foot of the bed.

“Well?" Jack crossed his arms and petulantly demanded of Janet.  "Doctor may I?" he asked, a little sarcastically.

Janet gave him a curt nod of assent, her assessing eyes never leaving Daniel.

"You went to bed," Jack started to explain.  "About a half an hour later I caught you trying to head out the front door.  You were sleepwalking, Daniel."

Jack paused, waiting for Daniel's reaction to this much of the story before continuing.

Daniel stared at him disbelieving for a brief moment, saw he wasn't kidding, and then emitted a nervous laugh.  "Well, that piece of information was alarming enough already, but I'm thinking there's more," he said quickly, a little too loudly, just a shade of a tremor in his voice.

"Good instincts," Jack said humourlessly.  "Yeah, Daniel, there's more all right.  When I tried to snap you out of it you went kinda…nuts."  Jack sighed, shuffled his fee unhappily and stared at his boots.  "You freaked out, started yelling and screaming," he unhappily told him.  "You kept shouting that word.  Over and over."

"Agada," Daniel murmured, pale, his eyes distant with disbelief.  "Honestly, I don't remember any of this."  He finally lifted his face towards the silent woman at his side, looking anxiously at her for her judgment.

"Should I be scared?" he asked quietly, the naked honesty of his expression pleading for an equally honest response.

"Daniel, I don't know," she said, giving him exactly what he asked for.  "I don't have any explanation for your behaviour but what I can tell you is I haven't turned anything up in any of the tests I've run on you that would indicate these episodes are being caused by any sort of abnormal brain pathology or injury.

"She says your tests are all normal," Jack interjected with a lofty glance at the doctor.  "There's nothing wrong with you."

"That's great news I'm sure but unless all of you are playing some weird practical joke on me and making this whole thing up something is causing me to not only act this way but also to be seemingly incapable of remembering my 'episodes'.

Jack cringed at the bitter enunciation of the last word.

Daniel dejectedly gnawed his bottom lip and when he spoke again the words came hushed and hesitant.

"Do you think it has something to do with what happened to me on P8X-807?"  Daniel reluctantly gave voice to the apprehension sneering at him from the background of his thoughts.

"Your first series of tests seemed to indicate not," Janet explained.  "Other than a traumatic stress reaction to the incident itself as a possible explanation for your subsequent – episode - I still can't find anything to indicate the exposure to the alien technology is definitely a causal factor, but with what has happened since, I wouldn't discount it. "

"Neither would I," Jack drawled sullenly.

"Is there anything else you can tell me, Daniel?  Anything else at all you can remember?"

"You had a headache!"  Jack burst out, excited by the sudden memory.  "Remember?  After dinner.  You took a couple of Tylenol for it and went to bed."

Agada, Daniel.

"What?" Daniel started at the sound of the strange word and shot an affronted look at Jack.  "I told you I don't know what that word means," he complained.

"Don't know what what word means?" Jack shot back at him, confused by the non-sequiter.  "Tylenol?  You're kidding, right."

"No!" Daniel glared at him, wondering why he was picking now, of all times to be obtuse.  "That word.  Agada.  I told you before I don't know what it means."

"I heard you before," Jack stared right back at him.  "And I still don't know what it has to do with Tylenol."

"Okay!" Janet firmly interjected.  "I think the best thing right now is for you two," she levelled a glance that would brook no argument on Sam and Teal'c, "to clear out of my infirmary and let Daniel get some rest.  Ah!" she pointed an admonishing finger at Daniel, silencing his incipient protest.  "To be on the safe side I'm going to keep you here overnight.  I want you to rest up and get some sleep, and if there's any chance of you doing any more sleepwalking I want it to be under medical supervision so we can observe your behaviour and make sure no harm comes to you."

"That makes sense," Daniel grumbled, sinking back into the pillow.  His expression was stormy but he grudgingly conceded the logic of Janet's directive.

"And you, Sir," she began, rounding on Jack.

"Staying right here," Jack curtly informed her, his expression equally unmovable.  "I might not be a trained medical professional but I'm plenty capable of observing.  I'll keep an eye on him, Doc."

Janet wavered, and then sighed as a duel pair of killer eyes, one pleadingly blue, the other stubbornly dark, battered her.

"All right," she acquiesced, her eyes sternly narrowing as she instructed both of them.  "I'll let you stay Colonel – if – you promise me you'll let Daniel rest.  The goal here is for him to sleep so we can see what, if anything will happen when he does.  You can watch him only if you don't interfere with his rest."

"Would I do that?" Jack replied, the picture of innocence.

Sam suppressed a snort as she leaned over and gave Daniel a parting kiss on the cheek.  "Take care, Daniel," she said fondly.  "We'll see you in the morning."

"We will indeed, DanielJackson," Teal'c solemnly nodded. "My hopes you will experience a restful and uneventful night."

"Thanks you guys and me too," Daniel grinned at them.  "Have fun."

"It would appear the night is still immature," Teal'c replied, his dark eyes dancing.  "And there is yet enough time to engage in such pursuits.  I am certain we should be able to discover some activity that will meet the criteria you specify.  It will be easier to do so now we have ascertained you are well."

"What he said," Sam laughed.  "We'll see you later Colonel.  Janet."

Jack waved absently at them, barely registering their departure.

"Well, Daniel," Janet smiled.  "I'll be leaving you in the capable hands of my night staff.  Get some sleep now and you, Colonel – "

"I'll be good," Jack vowed, flashing her a jaunty grin.  "And so will he."

“I thought she'd never leave," Jack growled as the sound of the brisk click of Janet's heels gradually faded.  "Hey," he said softly to Daniel, parking a cheek on the side of Daniel's bed and firmly capturing his nearest hand.  

"I'm fine," Daniel valiantly fibbed, biting his lip to quell the almost uncontrollable urge quaking through him to literally throw himself into Jack's arms.

"No you're not," Jack said slowly, staring down at the hand he was gently massaging between his own.  "But I know what will help.  C'mere."

For once Daniel didn't protest or worry about whether they should or could, Jack opened his arms and Daniel sprang up from the bed and into the sanctuary waiting to receive him.  Jack's solid chest was warm and comforting beneath his cheek, Jack's familiar, masculine scent, as necessary to him as the air he breathed filled his senses as the Jack-laden oxygen he'd just inhaled was squeezed back out of his lungs again by the powerful arms crushing him close.

When Jack held him everything made sense.  Even stuff as terrifying as this.  "I'm scared," he admitted, mumbling into Jack's shirt.

"I'm here," Jack soothed.  It was all he said, but it was all Daniel needed to know.

Daniel clutched his lover tightly, soaking in Jack's calming, grounding strength, trying to let his mind spiral free of the clawing clutches of dread and confusion.  Jack held him fast and rocked him, one of his large, warm hands massaging his back, and Daniel felt sleep beginning to gently pull him down.  He gladly let it come, wanting nothing more than to lose himself in cleansing oblivion.

Agada.

"What?"  Daniel cried out, jolted back into consciousness, his head jerking up from Jack's shoulder.  For a fleeting, disorienting second as he looked over Jack's shoulder, beyond the bed supporting both of them – people.  The room around them was full of people – scores of silent, wraithlike figures indistinct and flickering against the background of the antiseptic familiarity of the infirmary.  Like a silent legion of mute phantoms they hovered and stared.

And then disappeared.

"Easy, love, easy," Jack murmured, cupping the nape of Daniel's neck and exerting the gentle pressure necessary to encourage Daniel to return his head to the haven of his shoulder.  Shuddering, Daniel complied.

"Go to sleep now," Jack murmured.  "I'll hold you until you do."

Daniel nodded, striving to obey, but he wasn't sure now if he really wanted to, he didn't know, the formerly expected and anticipated absolution of slumber now seemed far less attractive and certain, and even Jack's nearness wasn't enough to completely exorcise the fear.


"Help us, Daniel."

Daniel turned his head toward the sound of the vaguely familiar voice and opened his eyes.  He was in the infirmary, quiet and dark, as it should have been for it being the middle of the night.  He was in the infirmary.  Shattering relief shuddered through him for finding himself exactly where he should have been according to the last thing he could remember.

He was exactly where he was supposed to be.  Everything was the way it was supposed to be.  Everything, except –

Jack.  Jack was gone.  Jack wasn't here but he wasn't alone.  Someone was here with him, someone who shouldn't be here, someone he didn't know, and yet…he did.

Daniel looked calmly up into the kind, orange eyes of the solemn alien standing at the side of his bed, his mind opening, a torrent of understanding abruptly cleansing his consciousness of all confusion and fear.

"I know you," Daniel murmured, strangely pleased by the realisation.

"Yes, we have met, Daniel," the man benignly smiled at him.  "I am Cephus, the Avantor of my people.

"Keeper," Daniel mused.  "That means Keeper.  You protect them. Take care of them.  Not lead, so much as guide.  It's a different concept of leadership, not one that sets you above or apart but makes you more accessible, involved – oh!" he suddenly exclaimed, his eyes widening with wonder.  "How did I know that?"

"The Mitron has at last succeeded in establishing a stable connection between our realities," Cephus supplied in a gentle voice.  " It is beginning the process of transferring the information you will need in order to make the necessary repairs, but because you are not one of us and no longer on Kathos, this will take time, more time than those who have made the journey here with you in order to try and reach you will have left.  But we had no choice.  You and your friends are the first compatible beings who have come to Kathos in millennia.  When we realised you were leaving before you could properly see us and understand we had to follow, even though we knew the consequences to those of us who left our world, if we could not make you understand and return with us.  We have been waiting so long for deliverance; we could not take the chance you would leave us without understanding our need, never to return."

"Wait a minute, Daniel said quickly, abruptly sitting up and turning to the man beside him.  "You said 'we'?  What do you mean – ohhhh!"

Remembering.  He was remembering everything.  All those people, clustered about him, on the planet, at Jack's house, here, in the infirmary, calling to him, asking him to help them…

Agada.  Help us.  That's what they'd been saying, over and over.

Help us.

"The others are still here," Cephus said with a small smile.  "They are waiting in your waking world.  Seeing so many of us distressed you, upset you and for that we are deeply sorry, for we truly mean you no harm.  So as to spare you further confusion we thought it best I should be the only one you saw this time."

"This time?"  Daniel frowned.  "Waking world?  You mean - I'm not awake?  I'm still asleep?"

"Because you left our world before it could properly prepare you the Mitron could only reach your subconscious mind.  From this distance the temporary alterations to your mind necessary to enable you to not only see us but understand us as well could only be effected while you slept.  Each time you did so it brought you a little closer to understanding, but you have an unusually strong and resilient mind that resists any sort of influence, even a benign one."  Cephus smiled at him again, his eyes grave with contrition. 

"It has been difficult to keep you asleep long enough for the final connection to be made and repeatedly compelling you to return to that state caused you suffering, and for that we are deeply sorry.  But it had to be done, for we were certain when the Mitron enabled you to see, with this would come understanding and we hoped, your acceptance and help, still, we are a peaceful people, Daniel, and would do no harm to any living being, especially one who has done us no wrong, therefore we deeply regret the distress we have caused you through our efforts to reach you.  Though it is scarcely an excuse and hardly a defence it is all we have to offer and we pray you will understand – there are so very many lives at stake  –"

"You were desperate," Daniel finished, his mouth set in a firm, determined line, his eyes heavy with compassion.  "And that's why…"

His voice trailed away as he tried to mentally sift through what he was hearing and simultaneously 'knowing'.  "No one else can see you but me, and the only reason I can see you is because of what your Mitron has been doing to me since it zapped me on the planet.  You're not really here, are you?" he blurted, astonished.

"No Daniel, we no longer inhabit the same reality you do.  However, we wish very much to be as you are, as we were once more, but cannot, unless you help us.  We beg you to help us, to let the Mitron teach you how to do this, and to return to our world to restore the rest of my people.  If you would do this – their salvation is worth dying for," Cephus finished with a sad smile.

"Dying?" Daniel replied, alarmed.  "Who – who's dying? Why?"

"I am, Daniel, we all are.  All of us who made the journey through the gate with you and have travelled to this distant world in order to give the Mitron the energy it needed to be able to continue to change you.  Without our many minds to draw upon the Mitron would not have been able to span the vast distance and continue to change you but as it does so, it cannot also continue to protect and support our life forces in this limbo state so far away from its influence.  Unless we return to our world and the Mitron very soon we will simply cease to be, no longer capable of existing even as the twilight, phantom beings we have become.  Still, if the loss of a few ensures the salvation of so many, many others…" 

Cephus paused, tilted his head to one side and studied Daniel's upturned, earnest face with wisely discerning eyes.  "I think this is logic you would not dispute, and have some experience of."

"No one is going to die," Daniel stubbornly asserted.  "Not if I have anything to say about it.  But I need to know – tell me what happened," he gently demanded.

"As I told you before, we are a peaceful people, Daniel," Cephus resumed.  "All life is sacred to us, even that of ones who would destroy us."

"The Goa'uld," Daniel bit out stonily. 

"Are not any less deserving of life even if they chose to use their gifts unwisely," Cephus gently scolded.

"Well, I won't debate that point of morality with you, let's just say I don't share your opinion and leave it at that," Daniel said once more after taking a moment to swallow the sudden flare of rage erupting at the mere mention of the hated name.

"To reverence all life is our way, Daniel, and we cannot depart from it for any reason, even to save ourselves.  Nor will we ally ourselves with any beings who walk in the ways of death and destruction.  Still, this does not mean we are willing to passively lay down our existence or sacrifice it to the whims of those seeking to subjugate or destroy us.  We will defend ourselves, but in a way that does no harm, and have evolved the technological means to be able to protect ourselves effectively without compromising our principles and beliefs."

"Which is what you did when the Goa'uld came," Daniel murmured, listening intently.   "You didn't fight them."

"No, we did not," Cephus nodded.  "That is not our way.  'The Goa'uld are not the only malignantly predatory species in the galaxy, there are others, and we were aware the possibility always existed one or more of them would attack us, therefore we prepared for that eventuality, and when they did come for us, we were ready."

"Why didn't you just evacuate through the gate?"  Daniel asked.

"That is of course, an option," Cephus conceded.  "If you are unable to safely stand your ground, fleeing is a viable form of self preservation.  Of course, employing it will also probably eventually mean you will have to continue running as soon as those who pursue you discover you once more.  We did not wish to run, and in any case, there were far too many of us.  Even though our planetary warning system alerted us to the imminent arrival of the Goa'uld invasion force in plenty of time to be able to implement our plan to preserve our citizens well in advance of the Goa'uld's arrival it would not have been enough time to evacuate all of our people through the gate."

"The tower," Daniel said.

"Yes," Cephus smiled.  "And the Mitron.  That was our defence.  As your female friend surmised, although we did have the rho-field capable of neutralizing all forms of weaponry within it and of absorbing all attacks against it from the outside, it was not possible to employ it on a planet-wide scale.  A rho-field large enough to encompass our entire world would have required the equivalent of a small sun to power it, and it was not necessary to expend our resources on such an extravagant scale when we only required the rho-field to be large enough to protect the tower – and the Mitron.

"When we learned the Goa'uld had entered our solar system we stripped our cities bare of any technology or resources they could have scavenged and hid all of it in several underground vaults located deep beneath the planet's surface, far beyond the range of their ring devices and only accessible through a single transport device located in the tower."

"Which was also protected."  Daniel nodded.

"And then…"

"And then you hid yourselves!" Daniel gasped.

"Just so," Cephus sadly smiled.  "You cannot harm what you cannot touch.  We built the Mitron to enable us to remove ourselves from this reality and therefore be beyond the reach or influence of any invader or enemy.  When the Goa'uld arrived the Mitron allowed every living creature on this world to avoid harm at the their hands by placing us in a reality adjacent to the one the Goa'uld inhabited, slightly out of phase with it so we were rendered in effect, incorporeal and invisible to the invaders.  Thus we escaped them, and so when they came for us, we were not there, although in truth, we had never left Kathos."

"Wow," Daniel breathed.  "No wonder the Goa'uld went insane and decimated your cities.  They came all that way and didn't get a damned thing for their troubles.  No technology, no hosts to harvest, nothing to exploit. All you left them were a bunch of empty buildings."

"It was of little importance to us.  Buildings can be replaced," Cephus shrugged.  "Lives cannot. We welcomed their rage and the ensuing orgy of destruction.  If they expended their anger on our empty cities and in so doing assured themselves there was truly nothing of value remaining on our world, they would not return.  Once they had departed we would have been free to return to corporeal being, to reclaim our world and rebuild, and to continue to exist in peace without having to worry about a future when they would return to harass us once more.

"So it would have been," Cephus said slowly, his eyes haunted.  "So it should have been.  But alas, it was not so."

"Uh oh," Daniel cringed.  "This is where it starts getting bad, right?  I presume the Mitron wasn't just supposed to phase you out, it was also supposed to phase you back in when the Goa'uld had gone and the coast was clear.  So why didn't it?"

"There was a malfunction," Cephus grimly intoned.  "We are still not sure exactly how it occurred.  The aerial bombardment of the tower the rho-field was called upon to repel was much more formidable than we expected.  We think the amount of power the rho-field was forced to divert to protect the tower damaged the sensory grid.  For whatever reason, when the Goa'uld finally departed and it was safe the detectors did not transmit that fact to the Mitron, thereby activating the rephrasing program and returning us to a corporeal state."

"So, the machine thinks the Goa'uld are still here, and it still needs to keep you phased in order to protect you."

"Yes, Daniel," Cephus said, sadly.

"And so, all this time, you've been trapped – you stayed just the way you are now.  Out of phase and unable to do anything about it."

"Yes Daniel," Cephus softly repeated.  "We were able to see where the malfunction had occurred, but because we could not touch the machine we were unable to repair it."

"You couldn't touch it.  So you couldn't fix it.  So you've been this way – ever since?"  Daniel shuddered. "How – how long?" he faltered.

"We are not sure," Cephus sighed.  "We think – many thousand of your years.  The Mitron continues to function, 'protecting' us, maintaining our existence in this artificial void it created for us which allows us to look at our world, to watch it pass us by, but we cannot touch it.  Taste it, feel it. Exist within it.  We have been forced to endure an eternity of formless, impotent existence.  Alive but not living.  Unable to escape, to change, to evolve, to interact with each other as flesh and blood beings  – Daniel as long as it continues to function we cannot even die.  You cannot begin to imagine the agony of our existence."

"Ooooh, you're wrong there," Daniel shuddered once more as an unwelcome memory of his time 'haunting' the SCG reared up and went 'boo' at him.  "I've kinda been there once myself.  Not very long ago, actually.  Fortunately we figured out how to get me back."

"You have been subjected to a similar type of technology in the past?" Cephus looked at him with renewed interest. 

“Well, actually both Jack and I were.  He was only phased for a few minutes, but for me, it was a heck of a lot longer.  For awhile it was looking like it was going to be forever.  Fortunately for me, though, not,” Daniel shrugged.

"That is undoubtedly why, of the two of you the Mitron evaluated, you were the one it selected,” Cephas mused.  “Aside from the fact your friend seems to have a more rigid and inflexible mind making him an unsuitable candidate."

"God," Daniel snorted.  "Don't let Jack hear you say that!  I'm sorry!" he immediately offered with an apologetic grimace when he realised what he'd said.  "That was a stupid thing to say.  I'm really sorry, it's just – I'm – I'm – " he shrugged helplessly.  "This is a lot to take in.  But I'm okay, I'm – so your machine malfunctioned and you're stuck.  I presume you anticipated the possibility something like this could occur and had a contingency plan and that's where I come in."

"You are correct," Cephus nodded.  "In the event the rephrasing sequence failed to initiate the Mitron was programmed to transmit a call for assistance which could only be received by our allies, members of the galactic community who have achieved a comparable level of technology and who share our philosophy.  We have a few friends out there," Cephus sadly smiled.  "Or at least, we did."

"The flashing light on the top of the tower," Daniel said excitedly.  "You were sending out an SOS.  Sam was right about that too.  She'll be pleased to know that."  His elation abruptly vanished as he saw the desolation in Cephus' eyes.

"No one has come, have they?"

 "None of those we have called to.  And no species that has proven to have a brain compatible enough with the Mitron for it to have attempted contact.  In all this time you have been the first, Daniel.  That is why we are willing to risk all, even our own extinction, in order to persuade you to return to Kathos and allow the Mitron to continue to instruct you as to how to repair it so the rest of our people may live once more.  Will you help us?"  Cephus implored.

"Of course," Daniel assured him.  "You don't even have to ask, but unfortunately it's not that simple.  I'd go back to Kathos in a heartbeat but whether I can or not - it's not up to me.  Unfortunately I'm not the one who gets to make the final decision in that regard and I hate to tell you this, but I might not be allowed to go back through the gate.  Especially if the general thinks I'm nuts.  Again," he finished bitterly.

"Why would your people doubt your word?" Cephus asked, genuinely startled by the concept.

"Oh God," Daniel sighed, wearily rubbing his eyes.  "Long story, really long, let's just say I don't have a very good track record when it comes to being believed about stuff only I can see and hear.  Or have seen.  Or experienced.  Or know about, but I can't prove.  God," he sighed again, burying his face in his hands.  "I wish it had picked Jack.  Or Sam.  Sam at least doesn't have the whole 'Daniel is a flake, pay him no mind' thing going for her."  He raised his head from his hands to beam a tragically sorrowful look at Cephus.  "You'd have had a much better shot at saving your people if you'd gone with Sam.  I'm really sorry, but I don't know if they'll believe me and let me help you."

"They must," Cephus replied, his face stricken.  "We must find a way to save my people."

"I'll try to make them understand," Daniel fervently vowed.  "I swear I'll try my damnedest.  But as long as it's only me…I don't know if only my word is going to be enough."

"We must find a way to persuade them we are real," Cephus said grimly.

"I'm open to suggestions," Daniel muttered, his mind racing.  "But neither one of us are going to go anywhere until I wake up.  You say this 'connection' the Mitron needed to make with my brain has been – um – made.  When I wake up I'll still be able to hear you and see you as clearly as I can right now?  And I won't forget we had this conversation?"

"Yes," Cephus nodded.  " You will be able to see and hear us, and you will not forget. The final connection the Mitron has made will allow the sensory alterations and the information it is supplying to you to cross into and exist in your conscious mind.  This was not possible before, that is why you had no memory of what you experienced while you were asleep once you awakened and crossed over into full awareness.  This would have happened sooner if you'd remained on Kathos.  But when you do go back the Mitron will temporarily place all the information within your brain necessary for you to be able to secure the replacement component and effect the repair.  You will then be able to reactivate the machine and it will restore us."

"And this isn't going to hurt me in any way?"

"No," Cephus explained.  "Has your Doctor not already explained to you the Mitron's energy has had no effect on the physiological structures of your brain? Nor will it on any level your medical technology is capable of recording.  Not only are the temporary alterations completely harmless and undetectable by your technology but the Mitron functions in a way you are yet incapable of imagining or understanding.  I give you my word, however, you will suffer no harm."

"Thank you," Daniel beamed at him. "I'd take the risk regardless, but as I told you before, it's not up to me.  If I can assure the general there's no risk to me or anyone else, well, that'll make it just that much easier to convince him to let me go.  How much time do you have before you – " Daniel faltered over the words, waving his hand to indicate what he did not wish to give voice to.

"Now that the Mitron is transmitting information, in less than one of your hours those of us who have left Kathos will cease to exist," Cephus told him sadly.

"Then I'd better stop wasting time and wake up so we can get going," Daniel announced, lying back down on the bed.

He blinked and suddenly Cephus was no longer alone.  The infirmary was crowed again with a host of alien figures filling every available space, the faces clustered close to the bed looking kindly down at him shining with hope and gratitude.

"We know you will save us, Daniel," Cephus told him with a grateful smile.

He was awake.

Proceed to Part Two




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